’Recalling. Certain gentlemen of other days. Who made of drinking one of the pleasures of life - not one of its evils. Who, whatever they drank, proved able to carry it, keep their heads and remain gentleman, even in their cups.’
This extract from the Waldorf Astoria Bar Book of 1935 now forms the opening page of the menu at my favourite London watering hole.
Always a sucker for a theme, yours truly has of late found herself spending time in the so-called ‘speakeasy’ bars that have - and continue to - pop up across the capital. Funny name for them really, when you think about it. Original speakeasies were so called because of the ‘practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, and even when inside’ in the hope police wouldn’t be alerted to the goings on. These days, such places are the talk of the town. Al Capone and co will be turning in their graves.
Still, these bars are a nod to the establishments which illegally sold alcohol in the United States during the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 30s, and now attempt to play on that idea of secrecy, hiding themselves behind single indiscreet doors, down flights of winding stairs or, in the case of last week’s visit, through an ornate grand wardrobe at the back of a rather regular looking drinking spot.
Prior to that most recent visit, I’d also been through a fridge door to - as those in the know always ask - ‘have a drink with the mayor’, and been questioned by a stern looking secretary about the ‘nature of my business’ before being led through a bookcase to see ‘my counsel.’
A little preposterous? Well, of course. But fun? Certainly.
Like many others, I have been sucked in by the glamour and feeling of exclusivity these spots hold.
One is well aware the world and his wife - and their best friend visiting from Outer Mongolia - know all about these bars, and that you need to book a table four weeks in advance to gain entry, before paying over-the-odds for a rum cocktail, but I don’t care.
We all like to feel as though we’re part of a club, that we’re in on the secret. And if you can do that while sipping on a Mint Julep, then all the better. While I’m not sure all ‘gentleman’ have been recalled to such places, and I’m damn certain many can’t ‘control themselves and keep their heads’, I am gladdened to think there are such places that at least attempt to call for such behaviour.